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The Man from OSA

Jonny Jacobsen photo
Jonny JacobsenBrussels
The Man from OSA
Scientology’s Office of Special Affairs (OSA) is not the Church’s security service, a defendant told a Belgian court.

Englishman Martin W. opened the fourth day of the trial. He was one of the more high-profile Scientologists, having served as director of Scientology’s Public Affairs and Human Rights Office in Brussels.*

While it was clear that he understood some of what was being said in French, he had the assistance of an interpreter throughout the trial and preferred to address the court in English.

Martin was dressed a suit and tie, looking for all the world like a middle-ranking executive in some anonymous business. He was not quite as eloquent as his predecessor on the stand, 84-year-old Marc B., whom some of the lawyers referred to as Le Sage (the Wise Man).

It was not so much that he was less articulate, but that he spent rather more time on the defensive. And the way questioning progressed over three hours or so he was on the stand did nothing to set him at his ease.

At times, his exasperation came through in the rather pedantic way he answered some questions – rather like an weary school teacher explaining a lesson to a particularly recalcitrant class. And by the time the prosecutor got to put his questions, it was clear that his patience had worn thin.

But  Judge Yves Régimont started with the easier questions, as he had with all the other defendants. He asked him first to explain his background in Scientology.

Martin, now 63, explained that he had got involved when he was about 19 years old by doing some of the basic courses. The first time around he had never actually completed them. But while he drifted away for about six months, during that time he read a few books. “And I found something in Scientology.”

At the time, he said, he very much wanted to improve society, “ improve conditions for everybody. I was very much looking for answers to questions – big questions, like ‘Why am I here?, ‘What is God?’ ‘What is infinity?’; big, religious questions.

“I was reading the Bible, I was interested in Buddhism and it was around the same time that I came across Scientology.”

“And you found in Scientology what you were looking for?” asked the judge.

“Very much,” he replied. Then, after two years studying Scientology, he decided to join staff, starting out at Scientology’s centre at Saint Hill, East Grinstead, in the south of England, where he stayed until 1989. From there, he went to the French church for a year and a half.

“It wasn’t easy there for me because of the language,” he continued. “But at the same time I became aware of the growing importance of Europe, because of all the investments and all the things that were happening there, because at the time the European Union wasn’t even called the European Union then: it was developing.

“The Berlin Wall had just fallen and there was a lot of change and it became apparent that the Church needed a kind of European representative to explain its activities.”

“But didn’t something like that already exist?” asked Judge Régimont. “There was the headquarters in Denmark,” he pointed out. He was referring to the Church’s Copenhagen base: what is known in Scientology as Advanced Organization/Saint Hill Europe (AOSH EU, also known as AOSH DK).

That was different, Martin explained. “The European headquarters in Denmark was an ecclesiastical guidance [centre] for the churches. There were no on-the-ground activities where the Church would be represented in European institutions.”

So Copenhagen gave instructions to other churches, the judge asked? The role of Copenhagen had come up more than once during the trial, so this was no idle question. (1)

Not at all, Martin replied. So the judge tried again.

“What I understood is the international headquarters is in the United States and the European headquarters is responsible for local churches – or am I wrong?” As he understood it, Denmark was on a higher step of the ladder than the local churches scattered across Europe.

That much was correct, said Martin. “The office I founded had the purposes of representing the Church. Obviously I was not in a position to do that from Copenhagen.” He had also commuted a lot between Brussels and Strasbourg, eastern France, where the European Parliament sits.

“So you founded this office” said the judge.

“Exactly,” Martin replied.

Earlier, Judge Régimont reminded him, he had questioned another defendant, Fabio A., a former director of the Human Rights and Public Affairs Office, who had explained to him that his role was to plan Scientology’s activities at the European level.

Martin explained that in fact there had been two human rights offices: one that had started in 1990 and had operated in 2003, which was more focussed on human rights and current affairs; then there was a second incarnation, run by Fabio A. with a broader remit. He had continued his human rights activities in the new-look organisation, he added, with more of an emphasis on Scientology’s social welfare activities.

“We have the impression that the OSA was a kind of security service for the Church,” the judge said. “Am I wrong?”

“The file suggests that you were a leader of the OSA. Is that right?” Judge Régimont asked.

“It depends on what you mean by that,” said Martin. “I had no function in the Belgian Church. There was OSA, which is the department in the Church which deals with external affairs – just to be clear.

“Each church has an arm that deals with external affairs, public relations, legal matters – things like that.” He had filled that role for the Church of Scientology Europe, he said.

Martin was making an important distinction because, even if at that point the European Office for Public Affairs and Human Rights was still on the charge sheet, so too was the Church of Scientology Belgium. (2) It was important then for Martin W. to make it clear that he had no executive role in the activities the Belgian  Church.

The judge got that point: he had ran the OSA at the European level, not OSA Belgium.

“So in the hierarchy, you were superior to the OSA leaders in Belgium?” he asked.

“No,” Martin replied.

“What is the OSA for?” the judge asked.

“The role of the OSA is to deal with external affairs for the Church, public relations, government relations, social reform activities, research, information – things like that.”

“What kind of research? What kind of information?” the judge asked.

Things to do with drugs in society,social reform campaigns, that kind of thing, Martin replied.

“Only along these lines?” the judge asked. “Or research into people, institutions that might present a danger to the Church of Scientology?”

Martin did not want to put it that way. “I was looking to understand what the European Union was … what role we could play in it.”

Of course there might have been other areas of research, he conceded: such as on negative articles on the Church – “People who attack the Church. So information would be collected from public information sources. But I would say a lot of that was more a national function, because there weren’t a lot of negative articles at the European level.”

His work also included liaison with other national Scientology churches – “but not in any sense that I was their superior,” he added.

“That was really the point of the question,” said the judge, because the court had before it a certain amount of evidence that the OSA’s role was a bit more than that.

“We have the impression that the OSA was a kind of security service for the Church,” the judge said. “Am I wrong?”

“No, that is not the case,” said Martin. “I think the [prosecutor’s] file – at least what I have been able to understand of it – is very misleading.”

The main function of the OSA and his office was to explain to public officials and other groups what Church of Scientology was, he insisted – as well as working on the social activities of the Church.

“These are the main functions,” he repeated. “I know that in the case file there is an undue focus on what we are talking about – and I think that is quite incorrect in the way that it has been presented.”

The judge followed that thread. So was he suggesting that the prosecutor and the investigators had simply understood nothing about the OSA’s activities?

“I noted the possibility that we might have misunderstood,” he continued. “But one has the impression when one reads certain things, certain documents… So are we interpreting these things badly or what?”

“That is a long question,” said Martin. “Let me try to break it down.”

“I’ll give you an example,” said the judge. And he mentioned the police raid on Scientology premises on September 30, 1999.

Judge Régimont was stepping up a gear.

Picture: "Interior, Palais de Justice, Bruxelles", by Jean Housen, Creative Commons licence.

* While most of the defendants were not identified during the trial, Martin W. was one of a handle of Scientologists named in some media reports: the role he once played as a Church spokesman meant he was already a public figure. I am nevertheless adopting the same policy with all the defendants and respecting the general convention in the Belgian media, which is not to identify defendants before they have actually been convicted.

1) See in particular, “Apostates”.

2) The prosecutor dropped the charges against the European office later in the trial, leaving the Church of Scientology Belgium as the only organisation targeted.

#Scientology, #Belgium, #trial